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Navigating College as an Interdisciplinary Student

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

My mom loves writing. When she was in college, she debated adding an English minor to her biology major.

She didn’t. She minored in chemistry.

I remember asking her why. If she loved writing so much, why didn’t she minor in English like she wanted to?

My mom is a highly successful, brilliant, and community-oriented physician and leader in public health. She is the most hardworking person I know, and when I asked her why she didn’t minor in English, I was surprised to hear her say she thought that she couldn’t. What would graduate schools or employers have thought about a prospective physician taking English classes instead of science? Would they have turned up their noses and pushed the application away? It was enough to make her reconsider and minor in a science field instead.

My mom and I are very similar in our varied interests – I’m currently a junior at Michigan State University, studying zoology with a concentration in animal behavior and neurobiology, with two additional minors in documentary production and Spanish. I am very lucky that MSU – and the Honors College especially – is so supportive of students that wish to pursue an interdisciplinary education. And of course, the opportunities and experiences at your fingertips as an interdisciplinary student are incredible.

But there are some downsides.

As an interdisciplinary student, it has been difficult at times to navigate the college landscape. The very bias that my mom was concerned about when she chose to minor in chemistry comes into play. My favorite example comes from, ironically enough, my organic chemistry class (a requirement for my major) this semester. On our very first day of class, my professor stated that the course she is teaching is designed to prepare students for the Medical College Admission Test. Well, that would be great… if I were taking the MCAT. It doesn’t make sense for me to be taking organic chemistry based on what I’m pursuing in my career, but it’s a requirement to graduate with a zoology degree. That’s just one of many examples of how interdisciplinary students aren’t always accounted for.

That can be scary. The constant wondering of how I should best use my time and what I should prioritize can actually be more stressful than the assignments themselves. Time management is key, and even then, it’s a lot to juggle.

My list of extracurriculars sums it up quite nicely: member of a zoological co-ed fraternity and a filmmaker’s club, research assistant in a lab studying spotted hyena behavior, student production assistant for Michigan State’s SpartanVision and Big Ten StudentU programs, and, of course, writer for Her Campus at MSU – among other things.

Being a part of all these communities is amazing, there’s no doubt about it, but it can also be quite isolating, in a way. It’s not the most common to find other students pursuing a similar amalgamation of interests. And yet, the connections I have made in all of my areas of interest have been some of the most rewarding of my life so far. I’m lucky enough to be friends with people who want to be exotic animal vets, people who want to be blockbuster movie directors, people who want to be field researchers, published authors, sideline reporters for professional sports, and a million other things. It’s such a privilege to grow close to and share my college experience with such a wide variety of people.

It’s taken hard work and dedication (and a lot of good time management) to balance my diverse load of commitments, but engaging in an interdisciplinary college experience has paid off in so many ways. I am more confident in myself and my career than ever before, and that is for one main reason: by enjoying all the incredible experiences MSU has to offer, I have positioned myself so that if (for whatever reason) I’m not able to produce nature documentaries, I can secure a job in the lab, in the field, on set, in the booth, or anywhere else. Having such a diverse background will allow me to pivot as I naturally grow over time and will leave me with backup options if my goals don’t come to fruition right away.

If you’re unsure about whether to pursue a minor in something completely unrelated to your major, don’t be afraid to take the leap. The Honors College at MSU also provides numerous resources to students looking to diversify their education beyond just their major requirements, and I am thankful to have had their support throughout my entire college career. Go into it with an open mind, and you can learn so much! Carving your own path can be at times terrifying and also incredibly rewarding. You won’t regret it – I definitely do not.

It can feel at times like you don’t fit into a box… but that’s the beauty of it!

Kayla Fowler is a new member of Her Campus at MSU. She is responsible for contributing articles on a monthly basis for publication. Fowler has written in a variety of styles from a young age, including poetry, fiction, literary analysis, scientific research, and op-eds. She is currently studying Zoology at Michigan State with a concentration in Animal Behavior & Neurobiology, as well as two additional minors in Documentary Production and Spanish. In her free time, Fowler enjoys writing, making crafts, and being outdoors, especially on a run! She loves taking photos and has recently built a website profile to showcase her most recent work.